Workshop 23: The Four Pillars Of A Bestselling Novel
According to instructors Chip MacGregor and Susan May Warren, every best-selling novel or blockbuster movie has four key elements that make the story great: heroism, sacrifice, redemption, and justice. Using blockbuster movies and best-selling books as examples, in their ACFW conference workshop The Four Pillars of a Bestseller they taught us how to put them in our manuscripts.
Acts of heroism take the character from everyday life toward a noble sacrifice. Little choices, made consistently over time, begin the process of heroism. Even if the character makes selfish choices for a while, at some point the journey becomes noble.
When a character’s journey moves into the heroic, there will be a sacrificial moment. In that moment, the character faces either giving up or doing something he would never do. As the writer, ask:
- What is the one thing your character would never give up or do?
- What would make her do it?
- How can she sacrifice her dream in the story?
Then it is up to the writer make that very thing happen.
Within the moment of sacrifice, the character is changed and made ready to face the final battle. Redemption is found in the climatic end. As the character faces the toughest challenge, he must experience a loss so great it derails the quest. Then he is reminded of how he has changed. The reminder can be from another character, from within, or from something happening externally.
Either way, it is in remembering how he has changed that he is enabled to win victory over the battle. Redemption is built within the story from all of the things the character must put right. And, it needs to be personal to him.
After the redemption, readers need justice. The ending may not always be happy, but it must be believable. At this stage, look at your novel. What injustices in the book bother you? Then decide how to bring justice to each situation. Then and only then, the novel ends with a satisfied reader eager to spread the word about the amazing book.
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